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Egyptians keep voting as military leaders tout high turnout

Egyptians thronged the polls for a second day Tuesday to cast their votes in the first round of historic elections that they hope will usher in an era of democratic governance.

The staggered parliamentary ballot, which will continue across the country until March, has been relatively calm — a welcome development for a nation with a history of vote-rigging and violence under then-President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which has been dissolved.

Authorities said turnout probably exceeded 70 percent in the nine provinces, out of 27, that voted Monday and Tuesday in the first elections since Mubarak was ousted in February.

Partial results are expected to start trickling in Wednesday, according to Abdel Moez Ibrahim, head of the judicial electoral commission. The elections followed a week of unrest and a crackdown by security forces on protesters demanding an immediate transfer of power from the interim military rulers to a civilian body. At least 42 people were killed in the violence.

The embattled military chiefs pointed to the high turnout as a sign that the protesters camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the winter uprising that toppled Mubarak’s government, and those demonstrating elsewhere do not represent most Egyptians.

Gen. Ismail Atman told the independent daily al-Shorouk that the elections showed the insignificance of the protesters’ demands for an end to military rule, Reuters news service reported.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Egypt’s most powerful and organized political force, was expected to do well at the polls compared with its more scattered secular and liberal competitors.

Salafists, followers of a rigid form of Islam, were expected to score major gains among voters in the coastal city of Alexandria.

In Tahrir Square on Tuesday, the masses that once protested there had dissipated to a few thousand. Many activists appeared disillusioned, with some describing the elections as bittersweet.

Omar Robert Hamilton, 27, an Egyptian filmmaker, said he had planned to boycott the elections but ended up voting Monday. Even if the elections are a “sham,” he said, it’s better to participate than to be shut out.

On Tuesday, he was again in the tents in the square.

“I feel like the elections and the structure of the system are designed to work against the revolution,” he said. “I have very little faith in the political leadership. They’ll sell us down the river. But it’s important for people to see that Tahrir and voting are not mutually exclusive.”

Late Tuesday, at least 59 people were injured during clashes in the square between street vendors and protesters, according to the Health Ministry. Security forces did not intervene in the brawl, which lasted more than three hours.



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